The real frontier food

You don’t know Northwest Frontier food until you have eaten at Mardan at the Heritage Village Resort & Spa, Manesar.
Mardan, the fine-dining northwest frontier cuisine restaurant at the heritage village resort & spa, manesar.
Mardan, the fine-dining Northwest Frontier cuisine restaurant at the Heritage Village Resort & Spa, Manesar.

When I was first invited to check out Mardan, I couldn’t help wondering if Delhi NCR needed yet another Northwest Frontier restaurant. However, after eating at this restaurant at Heritage Village Resort & Spa, Manesar, I can say with confidence that this is frontier food like you’ve never encountered before. And it’s worth every finger-licking bite.

I had dinner at Mardan with Shekhar Sawant, the resort’s new GM and Jaswant Singh, the executive chef whose been here for many years. Sawant has two decades of experience in the hospitality industry and his last stint was as GM of ITC Rajputana. Sawant is bringing a lot of new ideas to refresh the experience at the resort, which is part of the same group that owns the Select City Walk mall and has been around for decades.

Assorted dishes at mardan, reflecting the earthy and meaty character of northwest frontier food.
Assorted dishes at Mardan, reflecting the earthy and meaty character of Northwest Frontier food.

True to character, the restaurant is named after the town of Mardan in M.M. Kaye’s Far Pavilions (the town is now in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province). Some of the drinks too draw their inspiration from literature. Both Frontier Station and English Courage owe their names to a Rudyard Kipling poem, so, of course, I had to try them both. But first I had the welcome drink — a concoction made of vanilla ice cream, pineapple juice, homemade fanta and gin — which put me in an excellent mood. As for Frontier Station Mail, its lemongrass-infused gin base made for a refreshing drink. English Courage was more conventional, but no less nicer, with bourbon, lime juice, syrup and cinnamon.

But, really, at Mardan it is the food that takes centre stage. The menu is just a two-page affair, one for vegetarians and one for the non-vegetarians, printed on a piece of wood. A lot of research has gone into the dishes, Sawant explained, as the starters arrived.

The Aloo Nazakat was unlike any stuffed potato I’ve had before. Stuffed with a vegetable and spice mixture and coated with sesame seeds, it had been finished in the tandoor. This leitmotif of surprise continued through the meal — familiar dishes but with flavours hitherto not encountered. Also, nothing was doused in chilli as is the norm and you could actually taste the ingredients. The Paneer Aur Sabz Tikka was infused with saffron — such a game changer.

Good dishes mardan
Left to right: mutton seekh, assorted breads, murgh pulao

The Mutton Seekh Kabab stood out for the texture of the mince, which was neither too fine nor too course. The meat comes from a local goat breed, Singh, the executive chef explained. The Murgh Afghani Tangri had only the subtlest of spices from the yoghurt marinade but had this outstanding smoky flavour.

Al this is in character with the food of the frontier region, where spices were not easy to come by and had to be used judiciously. It was more about the meat shining through.

The Paneer Khurchan was excellent and I do believe they have a chicken version for the carnivores. The Nihari had lamb shanks that had been slow cooked overnight and the meat just fell off the bone. This is the point at which the breads appeared and stole the show. There was Taftan, a leavened flour bread from Central Asia made with milk, yoghurt and eggs and baked in a clay oven. There was the thick, spiced flatbread we know as Bakar Khani. And there was Sheermal, a saffron-flavoured beauty which hails from Iran. Of course, there are many more breads, but these are the stars of the show. Of course, we’ve encountered them before, but mostly in an adulterated form. Mardan is the real McCoy.

Masala tandoori prawns at mardan.
Masala Tandoori Prawns at Mardan.

By now you won’t be surprised if I told you Mardan’s Dal Makhani is one of the best I’ve ever had, as is their Murg Makhani.

The Murg Pulao, true to frontier character, was a simple layered dish of chicken and rice. The chicken was almost bland in comparison to the biryanis doused in spices and gravy we’re used to. Cooked in a copper lagan, I loved it.

Two desserts followed: the Sheer Khurma and Kulfi Faluda. Nobody’s fault, but I’m not a Sheer Khurma fan. No worries, since the rose and saffron flavoured kulfi blew me away.

Mardan’s interiors, replete with sun motifs, are still a nod to the Rajasthani restaurant that used to be here, but there are plans to change that for more appropriate décor soon.

The kulfi faluda at mardan is to die for.
The Kulfi Faluda at Mardan is to die for.

Mardan has stayed true to the spirit of the cuisine it espouses to serve. One just hopes it doesn’t get too diluted by the demands of unadventurous diners.

As you would have guessed, there’s an excellent resort attached to Mardan, great for a quick staycation without having to head too far out of town. There’s a large pool, luxurious rooms and a range of activities, including new ones like star gazing to keep you entertained (and to work off that Mardan dinner).

Heritage Village Resort & Spa, Manesar,
NH-8, Naharpur Road, Manesar, Gurugram, Haryana 122050
0124-2871500, 6111234

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Max: 5 stars)
Food: 8/10
Drinks: 6/10
Service: 7/10
Interiors/Décor: 7/10
Vibe: 7/10
One dish we loved: The breads
One dish that didn’t work for us: Sheer Khurma

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